A Mediterranean Island Petrified Forest: Another Monument to an Ancient Earth

On the Greek Island of Lesvos there is a World Heritage Site which includes hundreds of petrified trees and countless other fossils.  Many of these petrified trees are found standing upright with root systems intact.  A variety of tree species have been identified including a species similar to the giant sequoia trees found today in California.   Of the many large petrified trees identified on Lesvos one has a stump with a circumference of 45 feet and many others are more than 20 feet in circumference.  Some of these trees were likely more than 300 feet tall when alive.   We see here the preservation of a very impressive subtropical forest on what today is an island that is characterized mostly by desert and scrub-land habitats.

I only recently learned of this fossil forest from an advertisement looking for a student to continue work on reconstructing the biota of the region from new fossil collections.  What caused me to look a bit further at this fossil forest was the observation that there are successive layers of forests and their associated ecosystems preserved on this island.   This reminded me of another famous site at Yellowstone National Park – specimen ridge – where successive forests are preserved stacked on top of each other.

These preserved fossil forests stand as clear beacons of a time long ago when forests filled with plant and animals formed an ecosystem that was destroyed by catastrophic events.  But these catastrophes were not the global flood as young-earth creationists (YECS) wish to believe. Rather they were destroyed by volcanic eruptions.

Petrified Forest Yellowstone National Park. Showing ancient fossilized tree trunks with the Lamary Valley in the background. http://www.topozone.com/wyoming/park-wy/forest/yellowstone-petrified-forest/

YECs have struggled to explain how the presence of ash-preserved standing trees in Yellowstone within their young-earth timeline, but nonetheless assert these forests must have been preserved in a global-flood.

The Lesvos island petrified trees present the same challenges to the YEC timeline but it struck me that these fossils give us an even clearly example of the emptiness of the YEC flood geology model to explain the abundant evidence of Earth’s ancient history.   This small island is composed almost solely of volcanic material including sediments derived from eroded volcanic material.  That volcanic history included many successive pyroclastic flows and explosive ashfall event as evident in the layers of ash and debris flow sediments found in vertical profiles across the island.

The evidence found in the rocks on this island tell us that between volcanic episodes weathered ash layers supported the growth of large forest ecosystems including very large sequoia trees.  Several times these forests grew on the sides of, or in valleys among, volcanoes and were subsequently covered by large ashfall or pyroclastic flows. All of the petrified trees are found in thick layers of volcanic material which is an excellent preserver of organic material.

Here are the three important observations that every YEC needs to know about and account for:

  • The fossilized trees and entire preserved ecosystems are found only in volcanic material not in sediments from a watery flood
  • The trees and other plants preserved here are similar to species that exist today and thus are a relatively modern ecosystem which YECs generally consider to be the result of speciation after the Flood and hence should be considered by YECs a post-flood ecosystem.
  • The largest sequoia-like trees could have been more than 1000 years old when they died and there are large trees in multiple preserved layers which means trees of this age grew and died at different times.

This island is not covered by any discernible global flood sedimentary deposits but rather protrudes out of thousands of feet of sedimentary rock in the Mediterranean basin.  In the YEC model of Earth’s history such geological formations were formed after the vast majority of the sedimentary rock was deposited and the lack of non-volcanic sedimentary rock suggests that the layers of volcanic material were formed above the water’s surface and hence in a post-flood world.

A large petrified tree on the Greek island of Lesvos which has been dug out of hardened volcanic ash deposits. Image: http://www.freecandie.com/2014/05/road-tripping-around-lesvos/

But if this is the case these forests must have grown and been preserved by events following a global flood which is said to have occurred only 4350 years ago.  The massive size of some of the trees suggests a thousand years or more to develop the forest before it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. And then another forest with very old trees grew once again before being destroyed.

The climate today could not support the types of plants that are found petrified on this island.  Consider that Theophrastus first described fossil trees here around 300 BC and the island at the time was much as it is now with a dry Mediterranean climate.
(Update:  Please see the second comment in the feedback section that throws this claim that Theophrastus described the fossil trees in doubt. I obtained that information from the UNESCO website  – link below – but it appears to be in error.  Nevertheless, this islands was observed in its present condition at least by 300 BC)

How can the YEC squeeze the origin and life of these fossil forests into their compressed timeline?  There is no historical records of volcanic activity on this island and so all volcanism must have ceased prior to the advent of written historical records.  These forests had to have grown in a subtropical climate very different from today, been destroyed, grown and destroyed again and the trees has to be permineralized into petrified wood all before 300 BC.

And don’t even get me started by the presumably post-Flood elephants and other animals preserved on this island in the same volcanic rocks in which these trees are found.   All of these organisms had to migrate to the island, become part of a developed ecosystem and been wiped out prior to any modern record keeping.

The point is that everywhere we look we find abundant evidence for which simple straightforward interpretations leads us to the conclusion that the earth we live on has a deep history. To interpret these observations within the constraints of the short YEC timeline requires highly improbable and usually impossible propositions.



UNESCO information: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5858/

Koufos, George D., Nikolaos Zouros, and Olga Mourouzidou. “Prodeinotherium bavaricum (Proboscidea, Mammalia) from Lesvos island, Greece; the appearance of deinotheres in the Eastern Mediterranean.” Geobios 36, no. 3 (2003): 305-315. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016699503000317

3 thoughts on “A Mediterranean Island Petrified Forest: Another Monument to an Ancient Earth

  1. I remember being very impressed by YEC proclamations of the Yellowstone petrified forest with “the roots still in place”. Obvious evidence of Noah’s Flood, right? Conveniently left out of the presentation was any mention of the 23 successive layers of trees with in situ root systems, some of which intertwined with the tops of the stumps below them!

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  2. As a Classicist I immediately went looking for the reference to Theophrastus and I see you are a victim here of what is mentioned as such a reference plastered all over the internet. But there is no such reference; Theophrastus never mentions them.

    In her The First Fossil Hunters Adrienne Mayor explains the situation (on google books here: https://books.google.com/books?id=NmCLOcvMnqwC&pg=PA209&lpg=PA209&dq=theophrastus+petrified+trees+lesbos&source=bl&ots=_25wPwo-It&sig=ezotNUQhAqrgCouqDQwegiFPCJQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjssb6F3PPVAhVLlFQKHfNdAbsQ6AEIVTAK#v=onepage&q=theophrastus%20petrified%20trees%20lesbos&f=false)

    Theophrastus was born on Lesbos, in the village of Ereseos which is actually surrounded by the fossilized trees. He wrote a book called On Petrifications, a few fragments of which survive quoted by other authors which described the formation of some fossils (although this may be mineral coating by spring water rather than true fossilization) and also mentions that the earth sometimes produces rocks that look like bones. No extant reference, however, mentions the petrified trees. Mayor thinks it likely the original text might have mentioned it (it seems reasonable), but since the work is lost we’ll never know.

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